May 13, 2019
2020 Emergency Response Guidebook
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced a public meeting scheduled for June 17, 2019, to solicit input on the development of the 2020 edition of the Emergency Response Guidebook.
The ERG is a guidebook intended for use by first responders during the initial phase of a transportation incident involving dangerous goods/hazardous materials and has been updated and published every four years.
During the June 17 meeting, PHMSA will discuss methodology used to determine the appropriate response protective distances for poisonous vapors resulting from spills involving dangerous goods considered toxic by inhalation in the “green pages” of the 2016 ERG. PHMSA will also solicit comments related to new methodologies and considerations for future editions of the ERG and discuss outcomes of field experiments as well as ongoing research to better understand environmental effects on airborne toxic gas concentrations and updates that will be published in the 2020 ERG.
Since 1980, it has been PHMSA’s goal that all public emergency response personnel have free and immediate access to the ERG. To date, nearly 14.5 million free copies have been distributed to the emergency response community through state emergency management coordinators. PHMSA has also developed free online resources and mobile applications to make the ERG more accessible.
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Carbon Releases to be Tracked with Satellites
On May 7, 2019, Carbon Tracker announced a new project, funded by a $1.7 million grant from Google.org, which will use satellite imagery to quantify carbon emissions from all large power plants worldwide and make this information available to the public. Carbon Tracker, in collaboration with WattTime and the WRI, were chosen through the Google AI Impact Challenge
to use the data to hold polluting plants accountable to environmental standards and to enable advanced new emissions reduction technologies.
“We received thousands of applications to the Google AI Impact Challenge and are excited to be supporting Carbon Tracker, Wattime and the WRI with funding and expertise from Google,” said Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org. “AI is at a nascent stage when it comes to the value it can have for the social impact sector, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of this work and considering where there is potential for us to do even more.”
The project will work by leveraging the growing global satellite network to observe power plants from space. AI technology will use the latest image processing algorithms to detect signs of power plant emissions. For maximum accuracy, the project will combine data from a variety of different sensors operating at different wavelengths. AI algorithms will cross-validate multiple indicators of power plant emissions, from thermal infrared, indicating heat near smoke stacks and cooling water intake, to visual spectrum recognition that a power plant is emitting smoke.
“Carbon Tracker was the first organization to pioneer satellite-based power plant monitoring
. We are excited to continue this innovative analysis in collaboration with our colleagues at WattTime and the WRI,” said Matt Gray, head of power & utilities at Carbon Tracker.
The project will be led by WattTime
, a non-profit based in San Francisco, who pioneered solutions such as Automated Emissions Reduction techniques, which leverage past, present, and forecasted power grid emissions data and machine learning algorithms to allow smart devices to adjust the timing of their energy use to sync with clean energy and avoid dirty energy.
“Far too many power companies worldwide currently shroud their pollution in secrecy. But through the growing power of AI, we’re about to lift that veil all over the world, all at once,” said Gavin McCormick, executive director of WattTime.
“The more transparency we can provide for energy consumers around the world, the more likely we are to solve some of the monumental challenges facing our planet,” said Johannes Friedrich, a senior associate at WRI.
Biodegradable Bags Can Hold a Full Load of Shopping Three Years After Being Discarded in the Environment
Biodegradable plastic bags are still capable of carrying full loads of shopping after being exposed in the natural environment for three years, a new study shows.
Researchers from the University of Plymouth examined the degradation of five plastic bag materials widely available from high street retailers in the UK.
They were then left exposed to air, soil and sea, environments which they could potentially encounter if discarded as litter. The bags were monitored at regular intervals, and deterioration was considered in terms of visible loss in surface area and disintegration as well as assessments of more subtle changes in tensile strength, surface texture and chemical structure. After nine months in the open air, all the materials had completely disintegrated into fragments.
However, the biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable and conventional plastic formulations remained functional as carrier bags after being in the soil or the marine environment for over three years.
The compostable bag completely disappeared from the experimental test rig in the marine environment within three months but, while showing some signs of deterioration, was still present in soil after 27 months.
Chlorpyrifos Pesticide Banned in California
In a move to protect workers, public health and the environment, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) announced today that the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is acting to ban the use of the pesticide and toxic air contaminant chlorpyrifos in California by initiating cancellation of the pesticide.
CalEPA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) also announced that the Governor will propose $5.7 million in new funding in the May Revision budget proposal to support the transition to safer, more sustainable alternatives, and plans to convene a working group to identify, evaluate and recommend alternative pest management solutions.
“California’s action to cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos is needed to prevent the significant harm this pesticide causes children, farm workers and vulnerable communities,” said CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “This action also represents a historic opportunity for California to develop a new framework for alternative pest management practices.”
The decision to ban chlorpyrifos follows mounting evidence, including recent findings
by the state’s independent Scientific Review Panel on Toxic Air Contaminants, that the pesticide causes serious health effects in children and other sensitive populations at lower levels of exposure than previously understood. These effects include impaired brain and neurological development.
In April, chlorpyrifos was formally listed as a “toxic air contaminant”, which California law defines as “an air pollutant which may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious illness, or which may pose a present or potential hazard to human health.” The listing requires DPR to develop control measures to protect the health of farm workers and others living and working near where the pesticide is used.
DPR has determined, in consultation with CDFA, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), that sufficient additional control measures are not feasible.
As a result, DPR intends to move forward in a responsible manner by beginning the process of canceling the registrations for products containing chlorpyrifos, and at the same time, convening a cross-sector working group to identify safer alternatives to avoid replacing chlorpyrifos with an equally harmful pesticide.
DPR also will consult with county agricultural commissioners and local air pollution control districts before filing for cancellation. The cancellation process could take up to two years.
During the cancellation process, DPR’s recommendations
to county agricultural commissioners for tighter permit restrictions on the use of chlorpyrifos will remain in place. These include a ban on aerial spraying, quarter-mile buffer zones and limiting use to crop-pest combinations that lack alternatives. DPR will support aggressive enforcement of these restrictions.
DPR and CDFA will convene a cross-sector working group to identify and develop safer and more practical and sustainable alternatives to chlorpyrifos, including the use of biological controls and other integrated pest management practices. They will also partner with growers as they transition from using chlorpyrifos to implement safer alternatives.
In addition, the Governor’s May Revision budget proposal includes $5.7 million in funding for additional research and technical assistance to support this effort. In combination, the working group and funding for alternatives will produce short-term solutions and prioritize the development of long-term solutions to support healthy communities and a thriving agricultural sector.
“We look forward to working with the Legislature through the budget process on the Governor’s proposal to support growers in the transition to alternative pest management,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross.
In 2015, DPR designated chlorpyrifos as a “restricted material” that requires a permit from the county agricultural commissioner for its application. In addition, application of chlorpyrifos must be recommended by a licensed pest control advisor and supervised by a licensed certified applicator.
The proposed cancellation would apply to dozens of agricultural products containing the pesticide. The pesticide has been prohibited by the EPA for residential uses since 2001.
Chlorpyrifos is used to control pests on a variety of crops, including alfalfa, almonds, citrus, cotton, grapes and walnuts. It has declined in use over the past decade as California growers have shifted to safer alternatives. Use of the pesticide dropped more than 50 percent from two million pounds in 2005 to just over 900,000 pounds in 2016.
Mining Microbial Treasures from Toxic Sites
Filled with a noxious brew of copper, cadmium and arsenic, with a pH rivaling that of sulfuric acid, Montana’s Berkeley Pit seems inhospitable to life. Nonetheless, scientists have discovered microorganisms in this abandoned copper mine and other human-made noxious sites. These extreme environments induce microbes to synthesize potent, never-before-seen molecules that could find uses in human medicine, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News
(C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.
Recently, scientists have begun exploring places like old copper mines and smoldering coal seams for signs of life. They suspect that some of the unusual molecules that microbes make to stay alive under such hostile conditions could help humans survive maladies such as cancer or antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. However, researchers face substantial challenges in growing these microorganisms in the lab and isolating potentially useful compounds, which are just the first of many steps to move drugs into the clinic, freelance contributor Carrie Arnold writes.
Replicating in the lab the extreme environments in which these microbes thrive can be challenging or impossible. However, researchers Andrea and Don Stierle at the University of Montana cultured fungi from the Berkeley Pit in a nutrient broth spiked with pit water. The Stierles have since extracted and purified several new molecules from the fungi that show anti-cancer and antibiotic activities in vitro. Because many such extremophiles can’t be grown in the lab, some researchers have turned to a technique called metagenomics, which involves sequencing microbial DNA directly from environmental samples and then predicting classes of molecules the microbes might be making. Although no compounds identified from noxious environments have yet made it into the clinic, experts predict that it’s only a matter of time before these manmade disasters yield lifesaving medicines.
Soaking Up Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products from Water
Medications excreted in the urine or dumped into the toilet can end up in the water supply, just like lotions or cosmetics that wash off the body and go down the sink or shower drain. Unfortunately, conventional wastewater treatment cannot completely remove pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). Now, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
have developed an adsorbent membrane that they say could be used to purify water contaminated with PPCPs.
With rising standards of living worldwide, PPCP use has increased. Consequently, these substances are being detected in surface water, groundwater and even the tissues of fish and vegetables. Some PPCPs are endocrine disruptors or could otherwise negatively affect human health or the environment. Scientists have shown that materials called porous aromatic frameworks (PAFs) can remove pollutants from water. But because PAFs are in powder form and don’t dissolve in most solvents, they are difficult to handle and recycle. Guangshan Zhu and colleagues from Northeast Normal University wondered if they could make an adsorbent material for PPCP removal by coating the surfaces of electrospun fiber membranes with PAFs.
The researchers electrospun a polymer called polyacrylonitrile into a fibrous membrane, which they coated with polyaniline to help attach PAFs to the surface. Then, they added biphenyl molecules and reacted them to grow PAF-45 on the polyaniline-coated fibers. The modified membrane adsorbed three model PPCPs –– ibuprofen, chloroxylenol and diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) –– with capacities higher than most other reported adsorbents. In addition, the membrane was recyclable: The team removed the adsorbed PPCPs with ethanol and reused the membrane for 10 adsorption-desorption cycles, with only a slight decrease in capacity.
AB Specialty Silicones, LLC to be Charged with Release of Contaminants to the Air and Surface Water
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Acting Director John J. Kim has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General's office against AB Specialty Silicones located at 3790 Sunset Avenue, Waukegan (Lake County). The referral cites the release of contaminants following an explosion and firefighting efforts at the plastics plant.
On May 3, 2019, the Illinois EPA received reports of an explosion at a plastics plant in Lake County from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Local firefighters reported a white cloud and requested down-range air monitoring, and Illinois EPA requested the air monitoring support from U.S. EPA Region V. U.S. EPA began performing air monitoring and observed strong odors in some locations. U.S. EPA also noted that efforts were made to try and contain the fire suppression water, but the runoff overwhelmed the detention basin and entered storm sewers, which drain west with an eventual outfall to the Des Plaines River. It is unknown whether any contaminated material reached the Des Plaines River, which is at or above flood stage. Local access points to the River were closed as a precautionary measure.
The site remains under control of the coroner's office and the Office of the State Fire Marshal as the investigation continues. Therefore, no clean-up activities are occurring on-site. The company has agreed to several measures requested by U.S. EPA, which include securing the site, public/work safety, cleanup of any hazardous substances and protecting storm drains from further impacts.
The Illinois EPA indicates in its referral that, as a result of the explosion, AB Specialty Silicones violated provision of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations. Those include allowing the discharge of contaminated runoff from its facility to waters of the State and causing or allowing the discharge or emission of contaminants into the environment to cause air pollution.
In the referral, the Agency has asked the Attorney General to represent the Agency in ensuring that AB Specialty Silicones coordinates with the Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA to implement specified compliance measures for proper remediation. Any civil penalties will be developed as the case progresses and additional details are obtained.
Maine Wood Products Facility Fined for TRI Reporting Violations
EPA’s New England regional office has reached a settlement with a Maine wood products facility that will result in regular reporting about the facility's use of toxic chemicals.
Under the settlement, Louisiana-Pacific Corp. of Nashville, Tennessee, which operates a facility in New Limerick, Maine, has agreed to pay $49,724 to settle EPA allegations that the company failed to comply with federal right-to-know laws in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when they did not file necessary reports regarding a zinc compound used at the plant. The reports, Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) forms
, are required under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
"Failing to report the facility's use of zinc compounds in a timely way deprived the surrounding community of its right to know about toxic chemicals used or stored at the facility that could have affected public health or the environment," said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deborah Szaro.
Zinc compounds are toxic chemicals hazardous to aquatic life. This case stems from an EPA inspection of the facility in August 2018. Louisiana-Pacific submitted the three missing TRI reports for its zinc compounds within a month after EPA's inspection and was cooperative throughout the inspection process and case settlement negotiations.
At the New Limerick facility (also known as the Houlton facility), Louisiana-Pacific produces wood products from timber, including a type of engineered lumber that is treated with zinc borate to protect against termites and fungal decay. Each year, the facility processed more than 25,000 pounds of zinc borate powder, which is the threshold for reporting zinc compounds on federal forms.
States Ask Congress to Reject 31% EPA Budget Cut
Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 20 states, has called on the U.S. Congress to reject “deep and punishing” cuts that the Administration has proposed for the EP. In its Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal to Congress, the Administration has proposed cutting EPA’s budget by $2.8 billion – 31 percent – from current levels, including cuts of $364 million to improving air quality, $1.7 billion to providing for clean and safe water, $278 million for revitalizing land and preventing contamination, and $15 million for ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace.
“The Trump Administration’s proposed budget for EPA is yet another chapter in their continuing assault on our nation’s commitment to public health and the environment,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “The Administration’s budget would slash funding for basic protections for our air, land, water, and communities, while investing in efforts to dismantle vital environmental regulations, including those central to the fight against climate change. Congress must stand up for Americans’ health and the future of the environment and reject this extreme and dangerous budget.”
In a letter sent
to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the coalition writes that the Trump Administration’s proposed budget would “cripple, if not break” the successful partnership that has existed between EPA, and states and local governments for almost a half century. Further, the coalition charges that cuts of the magnitude proposed would take “our nation back to a time when air and water pollution was widespread, contaminated sites routinely imperiled the health of communities, and unregulated toxic chemicals in food, water, and the environment were a relentless danger to the safety of Americans.”
For over almost a half century, states and local communities have depended on EPA to be a strong and reliable partner – including through its longstanding commitment of funding to assist in implementing and enforcing our nation’s environmental and public health laws. On average, state environmental agencies receive roughly 27% of their annual funding from the federal government. Despite this, the Trump Administration is proposing an over $1.4 billion – 34% – cut in assistance for states and tribes, including deep cuts in funding for state and local water pollution control, pesticide enforcement, and air quality management, and the complete elimination of federal funding for a number of other state environmental protection activities, including beach protection and pollution prevention.
At the same time, the budget invests in EPA rulemakings aimed at replacing the Clean Power Plan, weakening the “Clean Cars” rule, and rolling back other regulations critical to reducing climate change pollution.
Joining Attorney General James in the letter are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
This matter is being handled for the New York Attorney General by Policy Advisor Peter C. Washburn and Senior Counsel for Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Michael J. Myers of the Environmental Protection Bureau and Real Property Bureau Chief Alison Crocker, in consultation with Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Lemuel Srolovic and under the Supervision of Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo.
Erie Coke Notified of Numerous Unresolved Air Quality Violations
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent a letter
notifying Erie Coke Corporation that its numerous unresolved air quality violations and its lack of intention or ability to comply have been placed on DEP’s Air Compliance Docket.
DEP cited nearly 80 air quality violations over the past two years that Erie Coke has not resolved. In February, DEP issued an administrative order to Erie Coke requiring a compliance plan, schedule, and plan approval to address the continuing violations. Erie Coke appealed the order and did not comply with all requirements of the order.
The Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act and DEP regulations prevent DEP from renewing Erie Coke’s federal Title V operating permit until the violations are resolved and DEP determines that Erie Coke has the intention and ability to comply with the Air Pollution Control Act and the federal Clean Air Act.
“DEP has made numerous attempts to work with Erie Coke to resolve the violations, but Erie Coke continues to demonstrate it lacks the ability or intention to comply,” said DEP Northwest Regional Office Director James Miller. “We cannot proceed with the permit renewal process until Erie Coke resolves the violations and demonstrates it can operate within the law.”
Erie Coke has 30 days from the receipt of notice to file an appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board.
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